Is the NBA Full?

Is the NBA Full?
Aug 20, 2007, 01:22 am
Is the NBA reaching full capacity? According to a slew of unsigned veteran free agents, 2nd round picks, undrafted rookies, and their distressed representation this summer—that seems to be exactly the case. Whereas in most years there are a host of teams with roster spots for an agent to choose from, things appear to be slightly different this time around.

By our count, there are as few as 32 roster spots available to all the remaining unsigned players left on the market, and probably closer to 25 or 26 spots since six to seven teams will leave at least one roster spot open like they did on the opening days of 2005-06 and 2006-07.

That sounds like quite a bit of room on first glance, but let’s consider that at this juncture there are still:

-4 restricted free agents who are considered mortal locks to be on someone’s roster or another (Anderson Varejao, Mickael Pietrus, Sasha Pavlovic, Charlie Bell)

-11 unrestricted who agents who should be extremely likely to sign with someone as long as they are willing to sign for a reasonable price: (James Posey, Ruben Patterson, Troy Hudson, Earl Boykins, Dikembe Mutombo, P.J. Brown, Chris Webber, Marc Jackson, Brian Skinner, Adonal Foyle, Melvin Ely)

-9 players who have established themselves as legit rotation guys and should be able to find a spot for themselves somewhere (Devin Brown, Derek Anderson, Malik Allen, Dahntay Jones, Jeff McInnis, Corliss Williamson, Calvin Booth, Dale Davis, Jumaine Jones)

-2 players who have probably shown enough upside to find themselves a spot somewhere if they decide not to sign overseas (Alexander Johnson, Yaroslav Korolev)

-4 Restricted free agents with qualifying offers on the table that they need to sign or decline by October 1st. (Earl Barron, Mike Hall, Dee Brown, C.J. Miles)

For those keeping score at home, we’ve already reached 30 players to fill 25 or 26 roster spots

Blame the luxury tax. Blame the international players. Blame the fact that geezers like Reggie Miller, Dikembe Mutombo and Kevin Willis refuse to retire. But realize that more than ever, the waiting list to get into the NBA is getting longer and longer, while the amount of spots stays the same or even gets shorter with teams like the Washington Wizards or New Jersey Nets considering carrying only 13 players to steer clear of the tax.

We are not even counting 34 players off the NBA’s free agent list who are severely on the fringe and might want to either start taking those calls from agents like Mario Scotti and Nick Lotsos offering big money from European teams, or if they are washed up, retire: Keith McLeod, Michael Olowakandi, Alan Anderson, Andre Barrett, Esteban Batista, James White, Hassan Adams, Zarko Cabarkapa, Mike Sweetney, Mike Wilks, Junior Harrington, Rafael Araujo, Michael Ruffin, Rawle Marshall, Slava Medvedenko, Jamal Sampson, Dwayne Jones, Pat Burke, Royal Ivey, Keith Van Horn, Gary Payton, Linton Johnson, Roger Mason, Aaron Mckie, Cliff Robinson, Bo Outlaw, Alan Henderson, Jalen Rose, Vitaly Potapenko, Danny Fortson, Jake Tsakalidis, Kevin Willis, Kelvin Cato and Darrick Martin.

Some of these players will go to training camp, and some will even make it and stick the entire year. But the point should be very clear—it’s going to be a lot tougher this year than it was in years past.

If things ended there, most of these players above would probably be OK. It doesn’t, though, since there are still many tough decisions left for NBA teams to make regarding their own draft picks, who they must tender qualifying offers to according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

There are still quite a few players from this year’s draft who heard their name called on draft night and were certain that they had finally made it in the league—only to now be caught in uncertainty. Yi Jianlian’s roster spot has still yet to be claimed (by choice), and there are no less than 17 second round picks who have yet to be signed. 4 of the top 5 players drafted in the second round (Carl Landry, Gabe Pruitt, Marcus Williams, Glen Davis) are still haggling over the terms of their first ever NBA contract [players at these slots typically get more than the minimum and multiple guaranteed years], and we find some real long shots amongst them.

-#41 pick Chris Richard is caught in a numbers game, as the T’Wolves already have 14 guaranteed contracts in addition to one partially guaranteed contract of a player who is a lock to make the squad—Craig Smith. They already bought out Troy Hudson to save a spot (bringing them down to 15), and now will have to choose between waiving Theo Ratliff’s very valuable ending contract, and signing their second round draft choice Richard (currently projected as the 4th string power forward on the depth chart). Our guess is they hold onto Ratliff and see what’s being dangled around the trade deadline. Richard is reportedly already working on his third agent in as many months.

-#42 pick Derrick Byars went from being projected as a top 10 pick by one NBA draft site just a few months ago, to being a maybe to even make Philadelphia’s roster now. He too already reportedly fired his first agent, Robert Fayne, and instead picked up Bill Duffy to represent him. Philadelphia already has 12 guaranteed contracts on their roster and an additional four players that they need to make a decision on.

Bobby Jones has already received $200,000 on his partially guaranteed contract and will see his contract become fully guaranteed on October 1st. Louis Amundson is guaranteed nothing, but was one of the best players seen at any of the summer leagues this July. He surely went a long way in earning his spot on the roster and then some, although his work is still far from done. If Philadelphia decides to start the year with 15 players, the last roster spot will most likely come down to #42 pick Byars and #55 pick Herbert Hill. Byars is currently projected as the 7th swingman (SG or SF) on Philadelphia’s roster, while Hill looks to be the 76ers’ sixth big man.

In case you were wondering, Herbert Hill is also rumored to either already have fired his agent, or be very close to doing so. He passed up a $200,000 net contract and the chance of being the starting center on French Euroleague team Le Mans alongside Nicolas Batum to fight for a non-guaranteed contract in training camp.

-#44 pick Reyshawn Terry is in an even worse predicament. Dallas is booked solid with 15 fully guaranteed contracts, and does not have any room to maneuver unless they swallow the $770,000 guaranteed on Brandon Bass’ minimum deal. That seems highly unlikely considering that he just signed it. From what we were told, Terry is being shopped overseas by local European agents, and the Mavericks have tried to recommend him to high-level Euroleague coaches—which makes sense since they’d clearly prefer to stash him in Europe rather than have to cut him in training camp and lose his rights.

Also not feeling very wanted in Dallas is Pops Mensah-Bonsu, whose judgment day is on August 31st, the day before his contract becomes fully guaranteed. The Mavs don’t have a spot for him either, and it’s very likely that he gets cut. Benetton Treviso is reportedly pursuing his signature.

-#45 pick Jared Jordan is still yet to sign, but he will probably get a $50,000 partial soon enough and go fight it out in training camp with Guillermo Diaz for the Clippers’ last roster spot. Diaz signed a partially guaranteed three year contract for a portion of the MLE, which allows the Clippers to keep him for three years on a near-minimum contract. Yaroslav Korolev is likely to sign even if it’s not official yet, and Paul Davis’ contract became fully guaranteed last month. Will Conroy is still officially on the roster, but he’s reportedly seen the writing on the wall and is very close to signing with Italian Euroleague squad VidiVici Bologna. The Clippers only started the season with 14 players on their roster last year.

-In regards to the fate of #46 pick Stephane Lasme, he appears to be safe for now. The Golden State Warriors only have 13 guaranteed contracts right now, and are waiting to resolve Mickael Pietrus’ situation before Lasme gets signed. He shouldn’t get too comfortable just yet, though, since the Warriors hold a substantial trade exception that can allow them to reel in a big fish through a trade without matching salaries.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Sarunas Jasikevicius has already been signed in Greece 14 times over if you’re to believe the local media there. His representatives insisted to us that “he [Sarunas] is just thinking about the NBA right now,” but they obviously wouldn’t want to hurt their stance at the negotiation table in regards to his buyout from Golden State (they still owe him 4 million dollars), if they didn’t really need to. What we do know is that Olimpiacos passed on the opportunity to sign Dee Brown for a cool million dollars because of the belief that they will land “Saras” later on in the summer.

#49 pick Aaron Gray can rest easy knowing that he got an unprecedented two year fully guaranteed contract from Chicago despite being selected near the tail end of the draft. Andre Barrett, Thomas Gardner and Justin Cage will fight it out for Chicago’s last roster spot.

-#52 pick Taurean Green is caught in quite an interesting situation, one that quite a few players wouldn’t mind being in. One on hand, the Trailblazers have three very solid point guards in front of him in Steve Blake, Jarrett Jack and Sergio Rodriguez. That wouldn’t be a problem if their depth at the swingmen spots wasn’t so shallow—with only four players at the SG and SF positions—considering that Darius Miles is chronically injured. It’ll be a tough sell to say that Portland needs Green as their fourth-string point guard if one of those four go down early in the season. The good news for Green is that his agents Andy Miller and Justin Zanik very quickly moved to have him signed to a one-year fully guaranteed contract for the minimum, which is almost unprecedented considering his draft spot. Green may or may not make it out of training camp, but having the financial security of knowing that you’re guaranteed $427,163 probably makes that a little bit easier to swallow.

-#53 pick Demetris Nichols might be stuck in the worst situation of any of the drafted players. The Knicks already have 16 players with fully guaranteed contracts before Nichols even comes into the equation. That means for him to survive training camp, New York will have to cut both Fred Jones and Dan Dickau (combined salaries: $6,290,028) for him to have the honor of being their 15th man. Unfortunately for Nichols, both Jones and Dickau fit in very nicely on New York’s depth chart as 3rd string guards, while the Syracuse product is staring at the chance of being the 5th small forward on the roster in the unlikely case he makes it. Needless to say, the situation looks bleak. And even more needless to say considering the trend we’re starting to see, Nichols already fired his agent Bill Duffy and hired Bill Neff to sort out the mess in his place. Is it Duffy’s fault that New York’s roster situation is as sorry as it is? Probably not, but someone had to pay the price.

-#56 pick Ramon Sessions has yet to be signed, but he appears to be in good shape considering Milwaukee’s roster spot situation. The Bucks have 12 guaranteed contracts, and are waiting on decisions from Yi Jianlian and Charlie Bell. Regardless, it makes plenty of sense to keep Sessions around as their 3rd string point guard considering that they drafted him.

-#57 pick Sammy Mejia might be what you would call a lame duck going into training camp. Detroit signing Jarvis Hayes to a one-year deal brought their guaranteed contract total to 15 players, meaning that Mejia right now appears to be the odd man out. The good part for him is that his agents (again Andy Miller and Justin Zanik) managed to get him some guaranteed money up front to ease the pain—$125,000, just for being a good sport about it. The D-League could be a route he might decide to take, but considering how well he played in summer league and the fact that he’s already 24 years old, a solid overseas situation could look very attractive.

-#59 pick D.J. Strawberry probably doesn’t have too much to worry about, considering that he was absolutely terrific in summer league and his team only has 11 guaranteed contracts on their roster right now. True, their owner might be one of the cheapest in the NBA and they did only carry 13 players on opening day last season, but Strawberry should be in very good shape all things considered.


Tallying up the numbers, that adds another 10 players or so to the 30 mentioned above that are fully expecting to be on an NBA roster on November 1st. At least 1/4th of those players will be left out. We haven’t even spoken about the many undrafted players and overseas free agents who will try to crash the party as well in training camp and make someone’s team. For example Joel Anthony (100k), Devin Green (90k), Marcus Slaughter (140k) and Jeremy Richardson (140k) already received varying degrees of money in order to come to camp with the Miami Heat in October. Players like Anthony Roberson, Orien Greene, Noel Felix, Mike Harris, Keith Langford and many more have not signed with European teams in hopes of landing a spot in the league. On the other hand, former NBA draft picks DeMarr Johnson [Benetton Treviso], Lawrence Roberts [Olimpiacos], Pape Sow [Rieti] and P.J. Tucker [Hapoel Holon] already decided to take the money and run.

How many players mentioned in this article will end up in the D-League or taking peanuts on the dollar overseas in mid-season? We will have to wait and see. What’s certain is that it will probably be more than in years past.

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